The arrest of the supervisor of Bal Niketan for alleged sexual harassment of several orphans and destitute inmates has yet again underlined the ugly traits of our system and society. The institute has since been taken over by the Chandigarh UT administration from the NGO, which ran it for decades with 90% state funding. The judicial process also appears to be on track as the arrest has been made. But in a thick cloud of justified anger and grave generalisations, there must also be closer examination of the officials concerned.
The complaint was made over the Childline telephone helpline, allegedly after the supervisor “lifted up the skirt” of one of the inmates. That inmate says she did not complain to the secretary of the management committee as similar incidents in the past had been brushed aside for “want of proof ”, and recountedunted how one warden had even suggested that the girls “make videos when he does something like that”. Both the officials were women. This shows the level of sincerity and the lack of trust between the inmates and the NGO that ran the home with 90% funding from the UT administration. Thus, the most crucial aspect of the case is how the exploitation remained hidden allegedly for two years, as incidents were seen as small matters.
The NGO officials remain miffed at “not being kept in the loop” by the administration’s inquiry panel that indicted the supervisor. The accused, who has two daughters, claims he has been implicated because he “did not allow the girls to go out and meet their boyfriends”. But what’s glaring is how the NGO officials have been defending him, claiming that his “strict” behaviour may have prompted the girls to complain.
This betray betrays a casual approach even when Chandigarh has, in the past, witnessed a case where a mentally challenged girl was raped repeatedly by staff of such a destitute home. She was left pregnant and later gave birth when the court intervened. That case made national headlines, but obviously left no lessons for the NGO, Bal Niketan Society. Such patronising and judgmental behaviour towards girls — in this case, the inmates of Bal Niketan — shows how lopsided the viewpoint in such cases remains.
The lens must also turn towards the police and administration, who have acted in the matter but do not come out scot-free.
Why did the supervisor continue to serve at the home even after the allegations were made? The complaint was made on April 2, and the social welfare department constituted a four-member probe panel the next day. Neither the department nor the NGO felt that he should at least be taken off duty for the duration of the probe.
As for the police, it must be noted the accused was on leave at the time of the FIR earlier this week, and was arrested only after he returned. His wife — a former orphan-inmate of the home, incidentally much younger than him — says they were at a relative’s house in Baltana, right next to Chandigarh. What were the police teams “sent to neighbouring states to arrest the accused” doing all this while? There are also reports that a written complaint was filed by the inmates at the police headquarters window but was not taken seriously.
This criminal leniency has a great part to play in why the whole system around the home has crumbled for now. Many of the hapless children have returned to their parents. Worse-hit are the orphans whose sense of abandonment gets aggravated in such a situation. Plans have been varied on what to do. As the home remained under the NGO right until Friday, the victims were originally to be shifted to another such home. But since the NGO did not cooperate — its head remains steadfast in defending the accused and castigating the main complainant — the administration has finally taken over. Now the department of social welfare wants to bring back the inmates who have left and counsel them to overcome the trauma.
Trauma is the key word. The delay, the casual approach of all involved, the judgmental behaviour, and the
NGO’s quick clean chit to the accused in such a sensitive matter, played a significant part in that trauma. In seeking to address that, the administration seems to have hit the right note. But it remains to be seen how well it can carry out the psychological rehabilitation of the girls. Much of that rehab will depend on action that must be taken against the criminally casual NGO management, the lackadaisical cops, and the belatedly sincere administrative officials.
The veracity of the allegations aside, such a sensitive matter deserves to be handled with much more care and sincerity.